Innovations that could change manufacturing

April 3, 2008
A new SME initiative outlines what's hot, what's now and what's "green"

The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) ( has a new initiative called Innovations That Could Change The Way You Manufacture. This member-driven initiative outlines the emerging technologies that are making a positive impact on manufacturing.

It also provides an educational framework for SME members and manufacturing practitioners to keep up-to-date on the industry's latest and greatest innovations. These innovations, which include such "what's hot" advancements such as Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM); "what's now" like self-assembling nanotechnology and "what's green or eco-friendly" like ultracapacitors will be showcased at the upcoming Competitive Manufacturers Conference. The Conference, scheduled for June 17-19 at the Chicago Marriott Schaumburg, is designed to connect manufacturing professionals to leading industry experts.

The Innovations initiative was born out of a series of meetings, e-mail exchanges and other communications between SME's Technical Community Network (TCN) and the larger manufacturing community. The TCN requested nominations for ideas from the community, kept some and eliminated others, and then presented its findings to SME's Manufacturing Enterprise Council (MEC) for review. The Council collaboratively selected five "innovations that could change the way you manufacture" based on such criteria as universality across industries, positive impact on manufacturing, current availability for integration, and overall industry value. These innovations include:

• Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM)
• Ultracapacitors
• Self-Assembling Nanotechnology
• Intelligent Device Integration (IDI) and
• Integrated 3-D Simulation And Modeling/Desktop Super Computers

Some, like DDM, ultracapacitors and self-assembling technology are already making an impact on industry, while others such as, lDI and integrated 3-D simulation and modeling/desktop super computers, hold great potential for industry-wide use.

As Richard "Dick" Morley, a Council member and founder of R. Morley Inc. (RMI) – a consulting firm that specializes in the application of advanced technologies in the manufacturing and computer systems industries –, explained, this "what's hot" innovation DDM, "It is becoming an essential part of our nation's key manufacturing industries such as aerospace, automotive, medical and even entertainment. The automotive industry uses DDM as a part of additive fabrication to build assembly aids. Orthopedic surgeons use it to create customized metal joint implants. It is even been used by video game designers to develop the latest gaming characters."

While the next innovation, ultracapacitors may sound like something out of the 1980's movie classic, "Back to The Future," this invention has 10,000 times more stored power than a typical D-cell sized electrolytic capacitor. Ultracapacitors also have an unparalleled life span. In our daily lives, these "super batteries" already provide long-lasting power solutions for cellular electronics, medical equipment and most notably hybrid automobiles.

"Imagine the positive impact future, widespread use of this innovation could have on our nation's current dependence on limited natural resources and ultimately our environment. This is one of manufacturing's "greenest" ways to go," Morley said.

Self-assembly nanotechnology also made the list because this "what's now" and "what's green" innovation already has moved beyond theory to practice most notably when IBM used it to enhance conventional computer chip manufacturing. This ever-changing technology makes it possible for objects, devices and even systems to form other structures without external prodding or manipulations. "Almost like Legos assembling themselves," Morley said.

This type of manufacturing at the microscopic level also holds great promise to enhance daily life with such possible uses in water purification, sanitation, agriculture, computer manufacturing and more. The innovation's "green" element comes in when it applies to alternative energy such as photovoltaics or converting the sun's energy light into electricity.

The fourth innovation also selected for its "what's hot" potential is, Intelligent Device Integration (IDI), which any type of equipment, instrument or machine that has its own computing capability. Currently used in personal and handheld computers, IDI offers unprecedented visibility into and management of equipment, products, and even consumer interactions. By combining sensor data with two-way wireless communications, it promises more detailed, real-time views of activities and objects and will enable organizations to respond faster and even predict manufacturing incidents before they occur.

Integrated 3-D Simulation and Modeling/Desktop Super Computers, the final innovations that could change the way you manufacture, are destined to revolutionize computer modeling. Imagine a large computer screen containing new automobile data. From it, users could see any segment or part instantly and in as much detail as desired from engine to component all with 3-D impact and full rotation.

These super computers will make it possible for the computer to be used as a microscope, telescope and time machine to manage, view, and tool a complete manufacturing system.

"This is not the modeling and simulation of 20 years ago or even two years ago," Morley added.

These five innovations will be prominently featured in this summer's Competitive Manufacturers Conference. Other conference highlights will include interactive sessions on lean manufacturing practices and collaborative strategies with a special focus on ways a company can develop its own innovations.

For the most comprehensive information about the Competitive Manufacturers Conference or to register, visit (

SME's Member Enterprise Council is interested in hearing opinions about these technologies. To submit feedback, visit ( and click on "Innovations that Could Change the Way You Manufacture.